SZMONHFU, by Hertzan Chimera

szmonhfu-by-hertzan-chimeraGenre: Dark Fantasy
Publisher: Eraserhead Press
Published: 2001
Reviewer Rating: fivestars
Book Review by Paul Kane

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Do not adjust your mind.On second thoughts, scratch that. Maybe you should. Eraserhead Press, known for their strange taste in fiction, have at long last taken on board a purveyor of the very strangest fiction known to exist, anywhere – a man I like to refer to simply as The Godfather of Weird. That’s right, following on from the success of his Neurone Fry-up chapbook from EH, Hertzan Chimera (otherwise known as Mike Philbin) has been let loose on the public in novel form. Thirteen years in the writing, and billed as a prequel/sequel to his cult hit from Creation Books, Red Hedz, SZMONHFU (pronounced, I’m reliably informed, ‘Je me’en fous’) is everything you’d expect from Hertzan, and more. As he says in the introduction, hang on to your hats.

So, where to begin? Well in SZMONHFU we at last get the life story of Red Hedz protagonist Jane, related in jump-cut sequences and flashbacks spanning many years and many different locations (most notably places in Britain, America and France). A model with a television addiction, she eventually hooks up with an artist from Nottingham called Paul. But nothing about Jane is as it appears – especially the bizarre things that tend to happen when she has sex. Usually resulting in some fatality or another. Put it this way, she makes the alien in Species look like a pussycat at times.

But none of this seems to be under her control. As she goes on, taking more lovers (like David Price – ?! – the truck driver, later turned private detective), the narrative gets more and more crazy, revealing her link with the evolution of mankind and an evil race of people known as the SZMONHFU. Or maybe she’s a genetically engineered person, the result of governmental tampering in a project called Zenith – because she’s also been tracked by a dwarf agent called Fipps and scientists who may have helped to create her. The explanation, when it comes, will either make everything clear to you or confuse you even further. But when I tell you it has to do with dolphin logic and gaps in reality, you’ll certainly be intrigued.

If you’re a fan of directors like David Lynch and David Cronenberg, then you’ll be in seventh heaven reading this adventure (indeed, certain parts of it read like a screenplay). And even if you’re not, I can’t recommend it highly enough, simply because the author has tried his damnedest to be different; something I really admire in this day and age of simplistic story lines and copycat novelists. Sure, there will be times when you’ll be reading this and not know where the hell you are (like the Escher comparison made later on in the book – In the universe of his art, up becomes down, in out, swans become fish, dogs men.), but I’d rather not know where I am in a really absorbing and ingeniously interesting book, than know precisely where I am in a boring run-of-the-mill novel.

On almost every page you’ll encounter something to delight you. Whether it be the way the English language is manipulated (I love the new swearword usage of Shag), the way prose ‘laws’ are bent to the point of almost breaking – you’ll find no speech marks in this baby – or names thrown into the mix just for the fun of it (you’ll also come across characters called Clive Barker or Jonathan Miller). But for me, the best bits are those sentences that come out of the blue and really do the business. Stuff like: The Incompetent Detective knew that somehow, against all reason or logic, his Jane had materialized out of the forehead of this Adjusco Woman. (Dali eat your heart out) and Christ, I’ve got the DT’s bad. It’s not the vodka. I can handle the vodka. It’s the sugar puffs that get me. 45% pure cane.

Here is an author who makes Burroughs look like a social realist, and for that reason alone you simply have to check out SZMONHFU (oh, and for the Bacon-inspired cover painting by HC as well of course). Just don’t come crying to me when the furniture starts talking to you, that’s all. The Hoo-Hoo are coming, the Hoo-Hoo are coming!

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